By Sudhir Srinivasan
Express News Service
A wronged warrior woman has been held captive for many, many years, and she’s been biding her time, collecting leaflets — of information, in Pattas — plotting revenge against the man who took her husband and child away from her. Unbeknownst to her, her son is up and about, and armed with his father’s strengths no less.
It is impossible not to draw parallels between the stories of Pattas and Baahubali. In fact, in a crucial scene, as Pattas alias Sakthi (a Dhanush who impressively looks as young as he did in mid 2000s) holds a martial arts posture, the chanting you hear in the background seems like an accelerated form of that bit at the beginning of Siva Sivaya Potri in Baahubali: The Beginning. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not at all suggesting they lifted the story. This idea of a son, who survives against all odds, emerging to avenge his fallen father, is an age-old idea that’s been milked for hits over the years. The efficacy of such films is decided by the individual moments within, and whether or not the highs and the lows of the film impact you as they should. Remember when Devasena feels instinctively, in her bones, that her son is close? Remember what you felt as Baahubali runs to his mother in chains, his enemies behind him, as music and slow-mo visuals combined to deliver a classic mass moment?
The problem with Pattas is that its highs don’t overwhelm you, its lows don’t shatter you. On paper, they all seem in place, but in execution, on account of their dilution, they don’t affect you as they should.
This isn’t for lack of commitment from Dhanush though. He seems driven, and where some martial arts sequences may even have seemed amusing, his conviction goes a long way in convincing you of their seriousness. He’s forever been thought of as our own Bruce Lee, and so, I suppose, a film about martial arts was always on the cards. This isn’t quite a martial arts film though, even though there’s one at the heart of this story. But the makers won’t care; all they want to do, as they say with that last line, is to popularise an ancient Tamil martial arts form called Adimurai.
Let’s return to Dhanush for the moment. Look at how impressively he sells the age difference between the characters. Look at not just his body language, but the wisdom in his eyes when he plays the senior character, Thiraviyam. In contrast, look at the impishness when he plays Pattas. Look at him even believing in the blatantly commercial moments—like the lengthy solo dance routines in the opening song, Chill Bro. Or if you, like me, are one for subtlety, look at him in that blink-and-miss flashback moment, when his child tries to pick a fight with him. Dhanush, who is hugging Sneha, mock-kicks his child, as a gentle rebuke. No dialogue could convey what this instinctive playful gesture does. There are a quite a few of these effective moments in the film’s flashback portion.
Another actor I really liked in the film is Sneha, who’s at ease with both the flashback romance portions, and later, as a furious mother. Pattas is a film that tries to do good by its women. Sneha gets plenty of screen time, and even gets a couple of sequences to show off her martial arts prowess. While our cinema has typically struggled to choreograph believable fights for its women, Pattas’ stunt sequences for Sneha’s character are as intense and as well-handled as they are for its star, Dhanush.
Pattas’ romance portions in the first half are quite trying, but even there, you can see that Durai Senthil Kumar is trying quite hard to give Sadhana (Mehreen) things to do. Though the actor’s Tamil speaking is frustrating to behold, there’s no question that she is in the thick of things. Even towards the end of the film, when she’s theoretically not in a position to contribute much, Durai is still trying to keep her involved. Fault the director for not being able to make the most of the premise, but there is no doubt there’s effort to keep things lively. Even while Sadhana’s eating into the run time in the first half, he tries to use onscreen captions to keep you interested. Even while he has to get through an opening song for the hero (a lively track by Vivek-Mervin whose songs have enough quality to take your mind off their purposelessness), you can see the effort to keep the visuals enterprising. Confetti’s flying around, Dhanush’s dancing energetically, the colourful frame’s full of people… If cursory songs are shot with as much vibrancy, I would not hate them as much as I usually do.
The film lobbies for the preservation of what’s local, what’s rooted, as opposed to replacing them with the foreign. Though this reminder comes during trying times, when groups are appropriating what it means to be Indian and enforcing it in not-so-graceful ways, I didn’t think this film’s motives are suspicious. This is a film for the preservation of what’s local and useful, and not necessarily against the foreign. Even when the villain brings in a martial arts form from overseas, Thiraviyam does not oppose its spread. He’s just keen that it not come at the expense of what’s already ours and useful (and this condition can’t be repeated enough). It’s hard not to draw parallels with British colonisation, what with all the white people who come in, as the villain’s lackeys (or is he theirs?). A particularly interesting image is of Thiraviyam, unmindful of his agonising pain, safeguarding a statue—an important symbol of what he stands for. Kodi kaatha Kumaran, anyone?
This film too, like quite a few recent ones, suffers from an uninspired end. Though Pattas begins with an MMA tournament looming large, and ends as the tournament comes to an end, this isn’t quite a sports film, given how rudimentary the portrayal of the sport is. It’s fine though, given that the actual showdown that matters—the one between the hero and the villain—happens outside the MMA ring. However, the choreography is frustratingly predictable. You know the drill from films of a bygone era. The villain lands a couple of blows, the hero reels, and then bam, flashes of an old inspiring memory surface, and he’s up to secure an unlikely win. It’s a template, and you could say this of the film itself. Templates aren’t despicable by themselves, so long as there’s enough inventiveness contained in its elements. But in Pattas, there isn’t enough. There are some superficially satisfying hints at what could have been though. For instance, I did enjoy some small touches: Like the villain’s son not being shown to be evil (our stories often depict them as being so, as though evilness were a genetic trait). Or how about Pattas’ ambidexterity being established quite early on in the film? Walking out of Pattas, these details make you almost think you could have done far worse. But I think it’s time we began asking why we didn’t get better.
Cast: Dhanush, Sneha, Sadhana
Direction: Durai Senthil Kumar
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